POP REVIEW / Scenes from the Cornershop: Marek Kohn on Cornershop in concert at the Camden Palace, London

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The Independent Online
Reincarnation is an accepted practice in rock, a culture with a strong tradition of pragmatism and a need to cope with a high mortality rate. It's something of a cheek, however, when your prototypes are not merely still alive, but earning their livings as perfectly respectable thirtysomething professionals. Once upon a time, there was a band called Alien Kulture, and now there is a band called Cornershop. Are they in any way related? The similarities are remarkable.

Most saliently, Cornershop are bracketed as an 'Asian' band, although its members comprise both Asians and Europeans. Alien Kulture had a Welsh member who was occasionally referred to as the 'token white'. Thirteen years on, Cornershop's Europeans wear T-shirts labelled 'token honky'. Alien Kulture appropriated the then Mrs Thatcher's phrase for their name; Cornershop have done the same thing with an Asian stereotype. Alien Kulture challenged cultural orthodoxies, questioning the system of arranged marriages. Cornershop are bolder, daring even to blaspheme. They burnt photos of Morrissey, in protest against the bedsit deity's tendency to dabble with the trappings of proletarian racism.

Like their predecessors, Cornershop are rooted in student anti-racist politics and the principle that the ability to play instruments is largely irrelevant to an indie band. And in both cases the results are pretty diabolical. This has proved Cornershop's undoing. A significant layer of youth culture has been prepared to buy an Anti-Nazi League revived with only the scantiest revisions to bring it from the Seventies into the Nineties. But, even on the indie scene, tolerance for ineptitude has stretched thin over the intervening years. Cornershop had the right Asian-and-angry posture to infiltrate a culture which, as in the Seventies, is using fascism as the opposite by which it defines its own political and moral basics. Their shortcomings exposed by the publicity they thereby gained, the band now have a lot to prove.

On disc, they are beginning to put together a case. The chords chunter precariously along, like a flock of sheep being mustered by an under- confident dog. Perhaps in reaction to criticism of their early sloganising, Tjinder Singh's lyrics are developing a wry, idiosyncratic sensibility; as a whole, the debut LP (Hold On It Hurts) is not strong, but it has charm.

On stage, unfortunately, Cornershop have absence rather than presence. The use of a sitar is a novelty, but it is rather swamped, except in the opening acoustic number. Tjinder Singh looks like a force to be reckoned with; stocky and square, his features a permanent thundercloud. His voice fails to match his visage, though. If they will insist on performing 'England's Dreaming', with its 'Fight the Power' chorus - right on, brothers] - Singh really does need to work up a passable imitation of a demagogue. The overwhelming impression left by Cornershop's skimpy set on Tuesday night is that, deep down, they'd much rather be back in their bedrooms.

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